The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is accepting public comments now until the 27th of June on a proposed rule to reduce and eliminate Emergency Planning Zones around some new reactors, including the NuScale project in Idaho. NuScale wants to build an array of a dozen small modular reactors (SMR) at the Idaho National Laboratory. To make it easier for the company, the NRC is proposing to shrink the several required Emergency Planning Zones (EPZ) for small modular reactors and “other new technologies” from 2 miles, 10 miles, and 50 miles – down to the fence line of the 40-acre facility.
This rule change would affect actions taken to protect the public in case of an emergency at NuScale. More than a dozen Eastern Idaho communities, including Arco, Howe, Butte City, Idaho Falls, Blackfoot, Shelley, Pocatello, American Falls, Terreton, Firth, Fort Hall, Aberdeen, Chubbuck, Carey and Mackay, lie within the planning zones.
Current federal rules require evacuation plans for people living within 2 to 5 miles of a reactor in case of an emergency. Within a 10-mile zone, emergency plans may include evacuation, sheltering in place, and issuing potassium iodide to people to protect against thyroid cancer. Currently, the area 50 miles out from a nuclear reactor is an ingestion exposure EPZ, where steps are taken to protect people from consuming contaminated food and water. All of these action might become important if there were an emergency at NuScale!
There is no justification for reducing emergency planning for new nuclear power plants. We know that any nuclear chain reaction is inherently risky. The United States has historically depended on the strategy of “defense in depth” to protect people from this risk around commercial power plants. This means there are multiple independent and redundant defenses to try to prevent accidents or lessen their harm. Shrinking the EPZ is absolutely counter to the “defense in depth” strategy — particularly when applied to new and untested reactor designs.
For the sake of reducing the regulatory burden on developers, the NRC is now considering NuScale’s proposal to shrink the emergency planning zones, not just for NuScale, but for all SMRs and other new reactors, too. The change would reduce NuScale’s EPZ all the way down to just the land within the 40-acre facility.
This is a terrible idea! Shrinking the EPZ can only be justified if one accepts the nuclear industry’s claims that new reactors will be safer. Those claims are unprovable since these new reactors don’t exist yet and have not been tested. All Idahoans have a right to know what would happen in case of an accident at NuScale.
An accident in a single small reactor can have big results. SMR developers plan to concentrate a number of small reactors near one another. NuScale, for instance, plans to build 12 of its 50-MW reactors in a single buried chamber. A 600-MW nuclear reactor is not small, and the potential effects of an accident are not either. Public safety demands far more than a single 40-acre emergency planning zone for an array of 12 reactors.
Comments are due by June 27, 2017, and should be labeled “Docket ID NRC-2015-0225”
Snail Mail: Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555–001, ATTN: Rulemakings and Adjudications Staff.
Please feel free to send a copy of your comments to the Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org